Modern living has a way of calling on the young like no other force, and these days, young people are heeding this call by moving to large metropolises — cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston — in numbers that are significantly greater than ever. Job opportunities, cultural centers and high-tech networks abound in dense urban areas where they're usually lacking in suburbs or rural regions. Cities are hives of activity and tapestries of rich social vitality; young people are drawn to them like moths to a flame. Out of the 25 largest cities in America, 23 of them are currently experiencing marked growth, and the number of college-educated adults moving into these cities' downtown areas is three times the amount of those moving into their suburbs.
However, landlords and property developers are well aware of this trend and are taking advantage of the fact that more people than ever are arriving in cities as the percentage of vacant residential space in these places dwindles to some of its lowest levels of all time. Simple math (and greed) dictates that rents in most of these locations are consequently going through the roof; in many cases, they're higher now than at any other time in history. One of the problems for millennials these days is that simply landing a job that can pay these rents is hard enough. Accordingly, the number of millennials living with a sibling, a relative, a parent or someone else is more than 60 percent — a 115-year high.
In 2016, Americans spent a total of $478.5 billion on rent, a 3.8 percent increase from 2015. Since 2000, rents in many U.S. cities have been rising twice as fast as salaries — a progression that surely can't continue forever. Still, correspondingly, the percentage of a person's income needed to pay these sky-high rents has thusly risen and varies widely by city.
In New York City, particularly in Brooklyn (which has been rated the most expensive place to live in America), but also in Manhattan, Queens, New Jersey and elsewhere, single renters can expect to spend up to 60 percent of their income on rent, leaving not a huge amount of money left over to cover expenses and (hopefully) save a little something at the end of the day.
In the booming high-tech center of San Francisco and some parts of Marin County, an astonishing 77 percent of a single person's income may be needed to afford a place to live in many areas. Single millennial renters, in particular, have it tough. Figures show that in Miami, for example, they must pay 54 percent of their income on average for rent (versus 50 percent for older renters, who may be on older contracts) while in Los Angeles they must pay nearly 39 percent of their income on average for rent (versus roughly 34 percent for older renters). Meanwhile, most government housing agencies say that having to spend more than 30 percent of one's income on housing means that that particular housing is unaffordable (the national median of a renter's percentage of income spent on rent is currently an unaffordable 40 percent).
Of course, these figures assume that young people want to live alone and can afford to do so. Years ago, most people did exactly that when they were starting out in a big city — they might have begun by renting a studio apartment and later moved to a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom when they met that special someone. But now, however, times have changed. The prices of even tiny studios have jumped to the point where living alone is considered a dream-like luxury, if it's affordable at all. For most people just moving to a city and beginning their career, it simply isn't feasible to live alone; to make city living viable at all, highly creative solutions need to be found. And that's just what scores of young people have done — by taking renting larger apartments and sharing them with other people.
Sharing housing will save a renter 13 percent of their income on average, but that number can increase based on the city in which they choose to live. In Los Angeles, a single renter can expect to pay a median rent of $1,650 for a one-bedroom apartment. By renting a room in a two-bedroom apartment, however, they can save $580 per month. By renting a room in a three-bedroom apartment, that figure rises to $684 per month. In New York, those numbers are a median $1,800 for a one-bedroom apartment, a savings of $728 per month for a room in a two-bedroom and a savings of $932 per month in a three-bedroom. In San Francisco, it's a mind-blowing $3,000 median rent for a one-bedroom apartment, a savings of $1,027 per month for a room in a two-bedroom and a savings of $1,184 for a room in a three-bedroom — not exactly small change. In fact, it's a significant amount if one adds it up over the course of a year. In Boston, Washington, D.C. and Miami, the numbers are similarly high. Even in markets such as Phoenix, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Dallas and St. Louis, the savings from sharing can add up to almost 7 percent of a person's income every month. In all of the Top 25 rental markets in the country (except Miami), sharing housing with at least one roommate makes the difference between spending more than the government's threshold for rent affordability (30 percent of an individual's income) and not. At the same time, sharing is not the sole key to affordability.
For more than a decade, it's been an open secret in many of these cities that the way to make expensive apartments "viable" is to reconfigure them so a one-bedroom apartment can accommodate two individual people, or a two-bedroom apartment can accommodate three, and so on. In fact, the larger the apartment, the more people it can hold and the more each individual person can save on their rent. Think of apartments as containing a "2+2=5" type of formula; the more space there is total, the more it can be divided up, with each person's living costs becoming less and less. In many of these cities, large apartments (even five- or six-bedrooms units) are becoming common as word is out not just among renters but also among landlords and real estate developers that this is becoming a common practice. Extra rooms, closets, balconies and bathrooms have been added in many cases because landlords not only anticipate this phenomenon; they encourage it. This is because it helps them justify their artificially high rent-per-bedroom figures they show to banks in order to get the loans they need to buy or build their buildings in the first place. So, among everyone in the process — from renters to real-estate agents to developers, a nudge, nudge, wink, wink scenario is going on where it's expected that one extra person (or two or three) may be living full-time in a healthy percentage of these residences, and rents are often raised to levels that anticipate (or even mandate) that.
The question then becomes, how physically can one enable this accommodation if the floor plan says "two-bedroom," and renters need to make it work for three people? Usually, the answer is: become creative, by using rooms in new ways and in many cases, dividing rooms and open areas to make spaces work more efficiently for all parties involved. In most cases, landlords won't pay for divisions or any devices that will modify their units; officially, they can't (or don't want to) acknowledge that, in fact, three people are paying the rent on a two-bedroom apartment, for example.
But in most cases, they'll happily accept apartment applications from those same three people without a problem, and their real estate agents will show the apartment to these three people or even more. By the same token, however, in many cases, permanent or temporary walls that become part of the structure of a unit are a no-go. Cities often have laws that say any walls added to an apartment's layout are considered part of the apartment itself, and such walls can violate a unit's fire code and building code approvals.
So, what's a reasonable alternative to heavy and expensive walls? Room dividers are one way to still maintain privacy, and they can be opened and detoured around when necessary. With room dividers, floor-to-ceiling privacy can still be enabled, and nobody working for a city agency would bat an eyelash if they ever saw such space devices in place. In virtually all cases, landlords will be satisfied, and renters will be happy that they're now going to get an extra-good deal from what previously may have been an overpriced (or even unaffordable) apartment.
Room divider kits such as those from RoomDividersNow are easily installed without using power tools and create drill-free divider solutions that can, as an example, split a large living room space into a separate sleeping area and smaller common space. Or renters can take an oversized bedroom and divide it into two smaller ones. Once tenants see how easy it is to a assemble a divider, creativity takes hold, and new ways of looking at spaces take root. The only limit to using room dividers is one's imagination. Unlike permanent or even temporary walls, dividers are tension-based and freestanding solutions that don't drill or screw into an apartment's physical structure. Or, for those dwellers who would like a more permanent setup, ceiling-mounted tracks or hanging rods are available and provide an elegant, minimal installation. As opposed to awkward or heavy alternatives like Japanese Screens or bookcases;,room dividers can go all the way to the ceiling for more privacy, more flexibility and better light-tightness.
Ultimately, helpful tools like room divider kits can let young renters slay the high cost of city living by attacking individuals' biggest expense in these areas: rent. Bringing rent down to government-sanctioned levels of affordability is step one toward being able to live a financially sane and successful life. No one should be spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent; by "dividing and conquering," renters can keep more of their hard-earned income in their pockets and enjoy more of the fun aspects of life, without having to think about their finances so much.